For at least one decade, Marilyn’s image tortured a generation of men, some young and still single, but others married men with families. In a way, she embodies the ultimate image of the naive temptress. Her character feels as if it’s natural that people should fall in love with her constantly, but never know why it happens. The Seven Year Itch is one of the film that casts the very typecast Marilyn better than others. Once again, Wilder is the man that can work with her best, by understanding the kind of character that she can play the best; the stereotypical blonde bimbo, to be completely blunt about it. Marilyn probably wouldn’t even have ever had enough skill to play any other kind of character. However, perhaps it’s one of the movies where the production code most stands in his way. It doesn’t stand in the way of him showing one of the most iconic images of the cinema of the 20th century, I am referring of course to Marilyn Monroe’s dress blown above her knees as she stands on a subway grate. It stops him from giving the ending of the film a more genuine and satisfactory ending.
The story is one of a husband, who has sent his son and daughter on holidays away from the summer heat, meeting a girl living in the apartment upstairs from his. The main thing to understand is that the man, played very well by Tom Ewell, has a very vivid imagination, often mistaking real life for a made up kind of life, ala Walter Mitty. The character portrayed by Marilyn Monroe herself may be fruit of his imagination and nothing more, we don’t really ever find out for sure, although we never do find out the girl’s name either, whereas the names of the ‘real’ people in the movie are repeated over and over in Ewell’s many monologues. On the other hand, if she really wasn’t real, then we would have to take the whole movie as fruit of imagination, and although we know well that al fiction film is fruit of someone’s imagination, the concept of a character imagining a whole situation, a whole movie, would be quite satisfactory, but not enough. This takes me back to the feeling that it was the production code that help Billy Wilder back. Billy Wilder, always quite skillful on tip-toeing on razor’s edge as far as the production code was concerned, this time would too have had regrets about letting Ewell’s character remain chaste, no matter how innocent and how willing Marilyn’s character was portrayed us. A man after seven years of marriage could afford to give into temptation in his own imagination in a 1950’s major American comedy.
Luckily, that is the only false note. One could have problems with the script resembling more something suitable for the stage than the big screen. But once the viewer gets the hang of it, it just looks like something different. After all, having a narrator would have been quite goofy. On top of that, the idea of a man who talks to himself shows some sort of insanity, or at least the momentary instability of a man who thought he could do without his son and wife for a whole summer, but finds out very quickly that he is no good alone.
I am never too big a fan of Marilyn Monroe, sometimes I find her reputation as an icon annoying. I often find her acting skills irritating. But it’s so easy to see in this film, why many people fell in love with her, not just because of the way she looks, but because she really gives away this image of the dream girl that would do whatever you would want tell her to do, the kind of character that feels like she stepped out of an elusive dream of the male characters that fall in love with her in any movie. In that sense, the character of ‘the girl’ in this movie may be the ultimate role for her. The choice of Ewell in the leading role, on the other hand, is quite peculiar, but works out. Perhaps it’s the only thing that excuses his loyalty to the woman. Any other leading man, from Jack Lemmon to Dean Martin, would have been expected to take his chances one step further than the character ultimately does. Tom Ewell is no casanova, he is quite a dork on the edge of being a little schizofrenic, he is the kind of character that could say no to Marilyn Monroe, perhaps the only guy. The nature of the character in fact is summed up in a very entertaining sequence where he imagines a conversation with his wife where he tries to convince her that he is irresistible to the opposite sex; his dreams are surreal and even post-modernist vignettes, as they pick up influences from books and movies, most notably the third and final vignettes where he makes out with a friend of his wife’s on a beach ala From Here to Eternity.
Most posters of this films announce it as shot in Cinemascope. One should not be too surprised, considering that it is a 20th Century Fox movie, and 20th Century Fox being the studio that patented the format. However, more than a technical choice, it feels as if it were an experiment to see whether the format would work in comedy as well as epics or adventure films. It seems like a necessary step, although only in a few occasions is this format taken advantage of, one of the instances being when Marilyn Monroe finds a way inside the apartment from a door near the ‘no place’ that the staircase led to. The sets are very suitable for a screenplay that feels like a play; the bog apartment feels as if it could have been built for a stage production.
WATCH FOR THE MOMENT – When Tom Ewell imagines a conversation with his wife where he tries to convince her that he is irresistible to the opposite sex.